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South Sudan is a test of our commitment to human rights, we must not turn our back

Mark Durkan MP | PoliticsHome

4 min read Partner content

Ahead of his debate, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Sudan & South Sudan Mark Durkan writes for PoliticsHome calling for the Government to act.


On 9 July 2011 the world’s newest country was born, ending decades of violence and hailing new beginnings for the South Sudanese people.  

5 years on and the country has been plunged into civil war once again, with rebel leader Riek Machar calling for ‘armed struggle’ against President Salva Kiir’s government in Juba.

Spreading throughout South Sudan into previously untouched areas such as the Equatorias and Greater Bahr el-Ghazal, the conflict has taken on an ethnic dimension, bringing to the surface historic injustices paired with present-day grievances.

Humanitarian indicators rarely tell the whole story, but in the case of South Sudan the numbers are staggering.  Of a population of 12 million, almost 3 million people are displaced, 4.8 million people are currently food insecure and 1 in 5 South Sudanese women in Protection of Civilian Camps have reported sexual abuse.

The UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, issued a stark warning to the international community that “there is a strong risk of violence escalating along ethnic lines, with the possibility of genocide”.

Hate speech, stereotyping and polarising rhetoric can be found on South Sudanese radio and social media.  Trust in an inclusive, distinctive South Sudanese national identity is at its lowest ebb and with the dry season approaching, there are fears of a large-scale government offensive in the coming weeks.

Against this backdrop, the international community has a responsibility to act.  So far the UN Security Council has struggled to reach a consensus on a political way forward in South Sudan, but there are options on the table which should be considered.

First, the international community should agree targeted sanctions on political leaders in South Sudan.  After reports that the two leaders refused to meet each other earlier this week, the international community must act to force them round the table.

Second, I agree with Amnesty that stopping the flow of hi-tech weapons into South Sudan via an arms embargo will be central to limiting human suffering in the weeks and months ahead.

Third, I join the call of Human Rights Watch and others for the establishment of the Hybrid Court in South Sudan.  A culture of impunity has fuelled the cycle of violence in South Sudan so any peaceful future must begin with accountability.

The situation in South Sudan represents a test of our commitment to universal human rights.  Taking action is never easy or cheap, but recent history teaches us the cost of failure.  The international community negotiated the creation of this young nation, and now it must not turn its back.

Mark Durkan is the Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Sudan & South Sudan, and SDLP MP for Foyle

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